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Record of Discussion – Advisory Group on Families

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
08:30 – 16:30 (EDT)

Participants

Advisory Group on Families Members (AGF)

  • Yvonne Boudreau
  • Sergeant (Retired) Alannah Gilmore (Co-chair)
  • Namita Joshi, True Patriot Love (TPL)
  • Tamara Kleinschmidt, Canadian Armed Forces, Military Family Resources Centres (MFRC)
  • Dave LeBlanc, RCMP Veterans Association
  • Laurie Ogilvie, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Military Family Services
  • Brigadier-General (Retired) Bill Richard
  • Col. (Retired) Russ Mann, Vanier Institute of the Family (for Nora Spinks)
  • Karine Villeneuve, Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS)

Regrets

  • Ray McInnis, Royal Canadian Legion (RCL)
  • Jenny Migneault

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Minister Lawrence MacAulay
  • John Embury, Director of Communications

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Policy and Research Division (Co-chair)
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Karen Rose, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Observers

  • Laura Kelly, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (via teleconference)

Presenters

  • Aaron Sabourin, Military Family Services (CAF)
  • Steven Harris, Director General, Communications

Presenters via teleconference

  • Valerie Stewart, Case Management and Support Services
  • Sarah Brown, Senior Director, Strategic and Digital Communications
  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Service Delivery Modernization
  • Fiona Jones, Manager, Program Policy, Policy and Research
  • Mary Nicholson, Director, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being and Business Intelligence
  • Mary Beth Roach, Special Project Coordinator, Strategic Policy/Policy Development

Opening Remarks

The VAC and member Co-chairs welcomed the members and the meeting began with roundtable introductions. The VAC Co-chair remarks included: highlights from Budget 2019; recent meetings with the advisory group Co-chairs on renewal, membership, the work plan, as well as the Veterans’ Ombudsman update to the Co-chairs on his priority areas. She mentioned that Chris Linford, stepped down and congratulated him on the success of his Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday (COPE) program. She noted the Minister’s commitment to continue the work of the advisory groups.

The member Co-chair remarks included: the need to move forward and continue to focus on families and Veterans; the new Pension for Life (PFL) programs in place since the group last met; the impact on families and Veterans of the current wait times and backlog and the resulting delay in accessing treatment.

Veteran Family Program at Military Family Resource Centres

The Director of Military Family Services, the Program Manager from the CAF for the Military Family Services Program and a representative from VAC’s Case Management and Support Services, Service Delivery, provided information on the Veteran Family Program and the Military Families Services Program delivered at the Military Family Resources Centres (MFRC).

The Director, Military Family Services provided an overview of the work underway on the development of a Comprehensive Military Family Plan through which improvements to the system of care and support for families will be researched, identified, measured and sustained. The intent is to better understand the military family experience and determine exactly what the needs are. She noted that Military families most commonly identify three significant challenges: personal well-being and mental health, financial strain, and relationship with partner/spouse.

An overview of the Military Family Program at the MFRCs was provided indicating that a coordinator is present at each MFRC to assist with the transition process. A suite of transition programs have been developed such as: Mental Health First Aid and COPE, in addition to their access to the Military Family Services program. The work underway to align programs with the new Transition Centres (formerly Joint Personnel Support Units and Integrated Personnel Support Centres) was also mentioned.

Discussion

  • The importance of communications and ensuring that releasing members as well as the family, are aware of programs that exist to help them transition. It was noted that the role of the coordinator is to get to know the releasing member and work to identify supports such as bursaries that would be available. The Task Force on Seamless Transition was also mentioned and the goal of financial literacy is part of the education and training section.
  • The importance of proactive outreach, including working with stakeholder organizations in order that information can be shared with their members.
  • The expansion of the Veterans Family Program for medically releasing to all MFRCs was applauded. It was noted that Life After Service Studies suggest that Veterans, who are not medically released, and their families also struggle and could benefit from these services.

Families in Canada Conference 2019 – Vanier Institute of the Family

The representative from the Vanier Institute of the Family provided an overview of the Families in Canada Conference 2019 held March 27 and 28, 2019 in Ottawa. The participation at the event included 277 national and 300 satellite delegates from across the provinces. The conference included those with lived experience, and those who study, serve and support families in Canada. The day included both Military and Veteran themes such as Work and Family, Research Lightning Round, Early Years, Family Formation, Youth and Young Adulthood, Family Experiences with Resilience, and Family Care.

A new resource publication that was launched at the Conference to build awareness and understanding among Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) professionals and practitioners was shared. The publication can be downloaded at this link. He acknowledged the financial support of the Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund at VAC and the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle members and partners in the development of this resource.

Communications Strategy for Families

The Director, Strategic and Digital Communications engaged the group on a Communications Strategy for Families (Powerpoint).

Discussion

  • The importance of communications and the opportunity to leverage relationships with stakeholder organizations and provide them with information that can be shared with their members.
  • The challenge of getting information to family members.
  • The suggestion to make new CAF members clients of VAC from the initial hire.
  • The CAF representative spoke to the extensive work they did on how to communicate with families and their experience with user testing.
  • Suggestions on how to communicate included: messaging on video/TV screens at the MFRCs, Salute!, e-mail blasts, and publications such as the Canadian Military Family magazine.

Plenary Session With Mental Health Advisory Group

The Director General, Policy and Research and VAC Co-chair of the Advisory Group on Families chaired this part of the agenda. An overview of the Women Veterans’ Forum being held in Charlottetown on May 23, 2019 was provided. It was noted that VAC is working with a Steering Committee to help frame the agenda and that the objectives of the meeting are:

  1. To present existing research on Canadian women Veterans and discuss directions for future research;
  2. To develop ideas and potential solutions to policy and program challenges facing women Veterans and their families; and
  3. To promote collaboration and build strong networks among women Veterans and stakeholder groups.

Roundtable with Minister MacAulay

The Deputy Minister attended the plenary session and introduced Minister Lawrence MacAulay. The session began with roundtable introductions. Minister MacAulay spoke to the importance of the advisory groups. He indicated that he is here to listen; is interested in their feedback as well as feedback from all Veterans; he wants to work with the advisory groups and Veterans to make things better for Veterans and their families.

Discussion

  • He was encouraged to review the recommendations put forward by the advisory groups.
  • The members asked that a regular schedule for meeting be established with more advance notice.
  • There were questions on how funds for programs and operations are allocated and it was explained that operational dollars can be re-profiled. However, program dollars are based on a forecast and cannot be transferred to other areas.

Caregiver Recognition Benefit

The Director, Re-establishment, Financial Well-Being and Business Intelligence, Service Delivery presented an overview of the benefit and the representative from Strategic Policy reviewed the eligibility criteria as per the policy. A link to the Caregiver Recognition Benefit Policy was provided to the members in advance of the meeting. Statistics were provided which indicated that over 80% of those who receive the benefit have both a physical and a mental health condition.

Discussion

  • There was extensive discussion on the eligibility criteria and that it is too restrictive given that fundamentally the Veteran would need to be institutionalized if the caregiver was not in place.
  • It was noted that the recommendation made by the Advisory Group on Families is different from what was implemented, and their recommendation for a three-tier caregiver benefit be revisited.

The group agreed that a joint letter to the Minister be prepared from both the Mental Health Advisory Group and the Advisory Group on Families with their recommendation that would include a short term solution as well as a longer term solution that would recommend a completely new model be considered. It was noted that any change to the eligibility criteria is legislative and would require changes to the regulations.

Pension for Life

A briefing on Pension for Life (PFL) (Powerpoint) was provided by teleconference by the Director, Service Delivery Modernization with the participation of representatives the Policy and Research Division. He reviewed the presentation that was distributed in advance of the meeting along with the agenda and other documents. An information kit containing fact sheets on the PFL programs was distributed.

Discussion

  • It was clarified that the Pain and Suffering Compensation (PSC) is not a division of the lump sum into monthly payments. The PSC is paid monthly to a maximum of $1,150 a month based on the assessed extent of disability and it is paid out over the life of the Veteran whether that is 20 years or 40 years.
  • It was clarified that the Additional Monthly Amount was an adjustment for those who received a Disability Award and is not part of the PFL benefits. The intent of the Additional Monthly Amount was to ensure that those Veterans who had received a Disability Award would not receive less. The calculation of the Additional Monthly Amount is determined by taking into consideration the actual amount of Disability Award previously paid to the Veteran, the amount that the Veteran could have received as a monthly payment, and mortality rates.
  • It was explained that age and gender are a consideration as the complex calculation that were used by Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada must incorporate mortality rates which are sex dependent. Mortality rates take sex into consideration because life expectancy varies between men and women.
  • It was noted that scenarios are available on the VAC website.

Closing Remarks and Next steps

Discussion

  • There was a short review of the Advisory Group on Families recommendations from 2016.
  • The member Co-chair will follow-up with the VAC Co-chair of the Mental Health Advisory Group on the next steps related to improvements to the Caregiver Recognition Benefit as discussed during the plenary session.
  • The definition of disability and how various organizations, insurance companies and government agencies have different definitions.
  • The group recommended that a teleconference be held before the end of June 2019.

The meeting was adjourned.

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